Places of refuge

View from Masada

The Church is a often seen as a place where people are right, or think they are. Wouldn’t it be better if it was a place where people went when they needed love?

I am just back from Spring Harvest 2013 which was great, if a little cold. One of the highlights of the week was listening to Gerard Kelly’s wonderful teaching on John’s first letter. The central point that both Gerard and John were making, over and over again was that love is overwhelmingly the most important aspect of Christian life.

Gerard observed that, for the last hundred years, the Church has been generally perceived as being concerned with being right, with righteousness. But this is not what the Church is about. It is not what Christianity is about.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16

God was not so “right” that he sent his only son. God sent Jesus because he loved us. (As an aside, I have a son and that is a shed-load of love.) He loved us before he sent his Son. We didn’t have to be saved to make God love us, he loved us already.

Christianity is about love. So, love is where we should start and love is where we should head back to when we lose our compass. If in doubt, love. For the Church and for our churches, love is what we should be aiming for and is also what we should be known for.

In the Old Testament book of Numbers, God tells Moses to set aside six towns to be “Cities of Refuge” in Israel. Basically, these were sanctuaries for a person to flee to if they accidentally killed someone. While within the city boundaries they were to be protected until they could be formally tried.

If church is about love, first and foremost then we should be making our churches places of refuge: places where people come to when things get really hard – when the crisis hits. They should not be places where people feel judged or places where people feel they can only go when they are good enough.

Churches, like the Salvation Army, that make refuge, shelter and sanctuary a core part of their ministry, bless and are blessed. They are an example to be followed. Many other churches need to work harder, including the online Church. We need to work to ensure that our ministries demonstrate and reflect the open, unconditional and extravagant love of our Lord.

Being right is really not the issue.The conversation we want with the world is firstly and most crucially about love. If church is about love and we are known for love and we are the place where people come to when things get really tough – that would be cool.

Let’s make it so. In Jesus’ name.


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